Have you ever had a series of random experiences that somehow felt connected? I’m a strong believer in synchronicity, an idea first explored by Carl Jung and later adopted by others such as Julia Cameron. Synchronicity is when one encounters a series of “meaningful coincidences.” In religious language one might think of these coincidences as an “intervention of grace.” I like to think of them as an invitation to pay attention because something important is unfolding.
This past weekend my parents were in town celebrating my birthday. Saturday morning we drove down to Boulder, Colorado through fog so thick it left rain drops on our car before arriving at the farmer’s market. On the way down my mom told me about a book she’d read which explores the concept of a “fixed mindset” verses a “growth mindset.” I was intrigued by the idea and told myself, “I can’t forget this.” We soon reached our destination and I forgot all about the conversation. Sidewalks lined with fresh pastas, tables full of exotic mushrooms, and bunches of radishes displayed in an ombre of fuscia will make one forget just about anything. After loading up our shopping bags full of German rye bread, kombucha (drinking this fermented tea was a first for my parents), beeswax candles, homemade soaps, and chocolate truffles made of cocoa sourced directly from Mexican chocolate growers, we went to the Ku Cha House of Tea for four pots of perfectly brewed tea. We also managed to consume a “Jerusalem Plate” and Turkish coffee at a tiny restaurant called “Falafel” on Pearl Street somewhere in there. Then, last night, I was reading through the weekly installment of Brain Pickings and noticed a link entitled, “Fixed v.s. Growth.” I clicked on it and sure enough it was the exact concept my mom had told me about the day before.
The article explained that a “‘fixed mindset’ assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A ‘growth mindset,’ on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.”
After reading the article I feel confident I’m in the fixed mindset group. Which, of course, made me feel a tiny inkling of failure. But the good news is there’s still hope for me (and all fixed mindset folk). Just because I’ve had a limited understanding of myself in the past (and in the lingering present) doesn’t mean I can’t forge a new path. Stretching and growing is possible for anyone at any age.
This afternoon I heard part of an interview on NPR’s Here and Now with a man named David Norman. At 67 David is the oldest student in the graduating class of Columbia University. His Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy took him ten years to complete. Yet the truly remarkable thing about David is that he managed to do all of this after serving time in prison. In his former life, David sold and used drugs and killed a man in a street fight. He told host Robin Young, “Someone had once said to me or I read somewhere that if you want to better your life, find something bigger than yourself...” And that’s exactly what David did in pursuing a college degree that he says, “opened me up to ideas that I was not open to before.” Finding something bigger than ourselves invites growth and makes us bigger than we imagine ourselves to be.
So I say to myself and all of you fixed mindset folks out there, take heart, our lives are still unfolding. We have any number of endless possibilities and opportunities before us. The goal isn’t success, the goal is growth. Let’s go out there and find something bigger than ourselves.
Would you describe yourself as having a “fixed mindset” or “growth mindset”?
Name something bigger than yourself that you can do today.